Ernst Toller, war drama, WWI literature, World War I literature


This article considers what the plays of Ernst Toller add to our conception of German literature about World War I. It interrogates the relevant themes that emerge in his plays: how the body at war is memorialized; the class divide as an instrument of militarism; and the responsibility to bear both sensory and documentary witness to war events. Though they are more frequently ascribed to Nachkriegsdrama or Heimkehrerdrama, Toller’s plays from 1919-1930 illustrate a broader development in Kriegsliteratur from Expressionist abstraction to a more realistic treatment of historical particulars. Tracing this gradual development helps to further dispel the myth that the war experience was an unwelcome subject for German writers until the explosion onto the scene of Erich Maria Remarque and others and counters our previous overreliance on novels in studies of German war literature. It adds complexity and diversity to our understanding of German war literature, not only chronologically and in terms of genre, but thematically and stylistically as well.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.